Better than the Middle of All Worlds
by Mike Fasano
There were hopes and fears going into this game.
The hope was that Rutgers could win a game over - even blow out - Arizona State. A resounding win would have been the best of all worlds.
It didn't happen
The fear was that Rutgers would get blown out. That would have been disastrous for Rutgers building efforts and disastrous for the Big East. That would have been the worst of all worlds.
That also didn't happen.
What happened was a close loss.
Is this the middle of all worlds?
I don't think so, I think this script plays out better than that, a lot better.
But for a questionable "roughing call" against Ryan Neill, the Knights could easily have won this game. Yes, this was a loss, but it was a thrilling, electrifying, nationally televised "battle royal" showcasing the considerable talent currently donning Scarlet. The Knights didn't just move the ball against PAC 10 member Arizona State - they ripped ASU's defense to shreds. Millions watched that game and those who watched it had to come away impressed with the talent level of the Knights.
But the game did a lot more for Rutgers than showcase Rutgers talent.
First, it put the Knights on the "Bowl" radars of bowl committees throughout the nation. The idea that "Rutgers doesn't travel well" can now be tossed onto the funeral pyre of "Urban Myths Disproved".
Rutgers didn't just travel well, they traveled spectacularly. Officially, the Rutgers ticket tally was a little over 7,000. Don't believe it. I was at Chase Field. This game was played in ASU's home town but it was the Knights who had the home field advantage. Yes, part of that was that due to the fact Rutgers fans out-yelled their Sun Devil counterparts, but part of it was just plain "numbers". RU fans may have bought 7,000 tickets from the Rutgers site but this is the internet age. Undoubtedly a lot of fans bought tix direct from the insight bowl.
They must have.
I was there.
If any one tells you that only 7000 Knights fans were in attendance - don't believe them.
But there's more. Rutgers fans weren't just bodies in seats. They were howling, screaming, stamping, unreasonably obstreperous Scarlet gangsters out for blood. They were cheering as if it were life or death. They brought fire to the Insight Bowl and you just couldn't miss it.
Bowl committees won't miss it.
The Root of All Bowls
But there was yet more than that. Although Rutgers fans were indeed paragons of screaming unreason - they brought more than just that. They brought money. I spent three days whirlwinding around Phoenix and Scottsdale. It became apparent that serious money was being spent.
The top hotels in Phoenix and Scottsdale were overrun with Alumni in Scarlet; their wives in Scarlet; their kids in Scarlet.
Families, Friends, Relations, Neighbors - all adorned in Scarlet - booked the top places in town until the management had no more rooms to rent.
They came, they saw, they spent.
One of my best memories from the trip was in a restaurant in downtown Phoenix. Several of us had heard that a place called "The Matador" was the top Mexican food restaurant in town. We decided to try it out.
"The Matador" was a classy place with good Mexican food. A few tables were populated with Phoenix natives. The rest of the restaurant tables were filled with folks in red and white. At one point, the folks at one table pointed their fingers at another table across the restaurant and said "R". The other table - without missing a beat - pointed back and responded "U". More tables in the restaurant starting picking it up. "RRRRRRRR" "UUUUUUU". RRRRRRRR" "UUUUUUU".Eventually Scarlet tables throughout the restaurant were hurling "R's" and "U's" at one another.
Now you have to understand that no one but Rutgers fans understood what this all meant but the management didn't care. In fact, the management was falling all over themselves being nice to us. There was a reason - Rutgers folks were spending and spending big.
Scenes like that were repeated all over Phoenix.
At "Jackson's" - a huge indoor / outdoor sports bar about a block from Chase Field - you literally couldn't move on Insight Bowl game day.
It was wall to wall Scarlet.
It isn't always that way. Two years ago Pitt was in town for the Insight Bowl. Two thirds of the tables were empty on game day.
No chance of that last Tuesday. You had to fight your way through masses of bodies just to get to the bar. If you could get there at all. Three hours before game time I gave up trying and left. On the way out, I saw two more busses unloading Rutgers fans who were clearly on the way to join the party!!!
Utter madness like that was going on all over town.
"Chamber of Commerce" types who track such things won't miss the significance of the dollars dropped in Phoenix last week and that will make a difference in bowl bid thinking in the future.
Most interesting story
One fan told me this story. He was on a plane coming from Jersey into Cleveland where his group would change planes for Phoenix. Like many planes coming out of Newark, this one was loaded with fans dressed in Scarlet. Someone must have told the pilot. As he landed in Cleveland he said something to the effect of "we have now landed in Cleveland and Go RRRRRUTGERS."
An Embarrassing Moment
Matei and I were in the press booth with the local and national media. We were both trying our best to behave like journalists but when Rutgers scored its first touchdown Matei hugged me and said, "YEAH."
An Even More Embarrassing Moment
I hugged him back and said the same thing.